May 07: Australia’s first sweet wine symposium to be held on October 20-12 in Margaret River region and celebrating the diversity of sweet stickies produced in Australia, might focus on several styles but it ought to also discuss ways to popular it especially with foods, writes Subhash Arora who feels that despite their popularity in Australia, sales of sweet wines are either stuck somewhere and not growing globally due to various reasons
The world of sweet wines is full of exotic wines like Ice-wine, Beerenauslese (BA), TrockenBeerenAuslese (TbA), Vin Santo and several other wines made from late harvest grapes,-especially Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Trebbiano and Moscato drying in the open or on straws, sweet Ports and Sherries and even sweet to very sweet sparkling wines including Moscato d’Asti as a part of the wide spectrum.
The Article in the Australian online magazine Food & Beverage industry magazine took me instantaneously to March 2014 when a Late Harvest Moscato- the delightful and delectable dessert wine made in small quantities by the Ozar-based Mercury Winery whose wines had been already winning international awards. It really impressed me with its aromas, flavours and the capability to tame chillies in the hot food besides being a traditional dessert wine (please note the emphasis on hot food). There was Thai curry with rice at home for dinner and I decided to pair it with Normally I do not eat chili –hot food and found the food rather bland for it. I sprinkled some red pepper on my food to spice it up and Voilà! It became a heavenly match-absolutely delightful and SWAAD! I could hardly stop eating till the whole bottle was polished off-by my family and me. It had 49 gms/liter sugar with an excellent acidity to match! I even requested the producer to sell me a case of this wine75 at Rs. 300 a bottle (375 mL). He had no stocks.
Another producer who has used Moscato to make the Indian ‘sticky’ (unfortunately, many Australians wrong think that Sticky implies only Australia-made wine. They might even wonder why their government has not gone for a GI registration!) is Big Banyan in Karnataka. Their Bellissima dessert wine produced in Goa is almost as good-during a wine-weekend in Goa organised by the Delhi Wine Club a few years ago: members loved it and a few of them even bought it to bring home as it is not available in Delhi. Of course, Sula makes it from Chenin Blanc and is the most easily available sweet wine. Fratelli made another version called Santo in a similar way-but priced too high for the market. Reveilo, York, and Vallonne have also dabbled with it but with lukewarm response.
Chilled Wine with Chillie food
The reason is perhaps in the food the producers recommend them with. Dessert wine has to be with desserts, right? Wrong!! Or at least not quite right! People in general and wine drinkers in particular are health conscious. Many don’t even drink wine because of the calories which come from alcohol and the sugar content. Those suffering from Type-2 Diabetes are particularly averse to sugar and are so recommended by their physicians. 49 gms/liter is a lot of sugar for them. Consider the German TbA, Ice-wine and Tokaj-with over 250-450 gms/L sugar; it will play havoc with their system-even if they take much less quantity of 20-30 mL with or without dessert. The market has really choked because of this fear alone-added to that are the prospects of putting on weight-when many are trying to resist even the dessert with similar calories or less.
The answer lies in propagating small consumption with chillies- hot Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese or Korean foods. Every time I have loved a sweet wine, it has been with chillies-hot Indian food, Mexican food, pizza with piquant sausages and spiced up olive oil, or hot Thai food. Of course, by themselves the wines taste great too. It’s a known fact in the international wine judging circles that the sweet wines score the maximum points –despite the judges being aware of this phenomenon. But that does not help producers sell more- apparently for the same reasons.
For several years, I used to attend Conferences called the World Wine Symposium at Villa d’Este for several years. During one of the paid tastings, there were iconic sweet wine producers presenting their wines- including stalwarts like Kracher, Egon Mueller producing some of the best dessert wines in the world. During discussions the topic switched to marketing their wines. They all admitted that they found it hard to market their wines or increase their market share.
I suggested they were on the wrong track and instead of promoting only as the dessert wines they ought to promote with spicy hot foods like Indian, Korean, Mexican or Thai cuisine. They immediately jumped at the idea and started sharing their occasional experiences at various seminars where they found people very excited about tasting their wines with ‘hot’ cuisines and all of them concurred that they should perhaps keep in mind while marketing their products. Of course their markets would be different countries than now or niche in the classic markets like the UK or the US where there is a plethora of people of different nationalities eating real hot food.
There is a market for off-dry wines which apparently won’t be focus at the symposium which is concentrated on dessert wines only. USA apparently is a big market for such wines. Talking of the latest trends in the US market, Travis Fuller, a fellow judge with me at Mundus Vini for several years and then the Senior Brand Manager of Casella Wines, told me in September 2011 that ‘’our research shows that there is a burgeoning new class of women drinkers between the age of 35-45 years who like to have their wines sweet and with low alcohol; our Moscato has only 7% alcohol. During the last 6 months alone 12 new Moscato have been launched. Interesting part is that the wine is adding new consumers to the market rather than cutting into the share of other wines. There seems to be a general feeling of health consciousness in women in the US and they seem to prefer low alcohol wines.’
With several producers in India targeting the youth market, they could well develop this style of wine for the young drinkers and women, in a frizzante style.
The weekend program in Australia will be rounded off with a lunch paired with sweet wines – showcasing the many flavours that can be matched with these styles. Going by Master Chef Australia where the hot and spicy Indian, Malaysian foods seem to be very popular in Australia, the Conference organisers would do well to create parings with such foods and create more awareness about different sweet wines matching, besides tasting as the staple dessert wines..
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